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2008 Distinguished Graduate Award

LTG Clarence McKnight '52

Lieutenant General Clarence E. McKnight’s service to our nation—as a soldier and a civilian—is the embodiment of the three words which best capture the essence of his alma mater: Duty, Honor, Country. General McKnight spent his life helping others in extraordinary ways, and the results of those efforts have made him richly deserving of his selection as a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy.

 “Mac” McKnight was born on September 9, 1929, and his talent and drive made themselves known early in his life. He captained his high school baseball team, was Lieutenant Governor for three regions in the Junior Kiwanis program, and devoted himself to his studies, graduating as the salutatorian of his class. After entering the University of Tennessee, joining the ROTC program, and being elected President of his Class, Mac learned that he had been accepted for admission to West Point. He entered with the Class of 1952 and graduated four years later as a Signal Corps officer, while the country was at war in Korea.

General McKnight’s military career took him around the world, and he served in Korea, France, Germany, India, El Salvador, Panama, and Vietnam, as well as in the United States. During his career, he was successful at every level of service, from his leadership of a signal platoon during the Korean War to his command of the Army Communications Command, a Major Army Command. His career culminated with his assignment as the Director of Command, Control, and Communications in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Upon his retirement from active duty in 1987, General McKnight continued his extensive involvement in national-level telecommunications issues by joining Booz Allen Hamilton as Director of Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence Plans and Programs. A year later, he became the Chair of the National Advisory Committee of the National Science Center, and in 1992, he co-founded the Community Learning and Information Network. Mac McKnight retired from Booz Allen Hamilton in 1998, but he has remained in close contact with its senior leadership and has continued to provide invaluable advice and counsel on matters pertaining to national-level telecommunications systems.

As a soldier and a civilian, General McKnight’s legacy is based on two pillars: leadership and vision. Mac McKnight commanded soldiers at every level from company to Army; and, his leadership spanned two of his nation’s most bitter conflicts, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, during which he led soldiers at the platoon and battalion level, respectively. After Vietnam, he went on to command a Signal battalion, two Signal Groups, and the 5th Signal Command in Germany during the height of the Cold War.  In addition to his command of tactical and strategic communications commands, he served as the Deputy Commandant and the Commandant of the Signal Training Center, and CG of Fort Gordon, Georgia. His contributions to our Army as a commander reached their height when he became the first 3-star commander of Army Communications Command, a global command of more than 33,000 soldiers and civilians spread throughout fourteen countries.

In addition to being a combat leader, General McKnight was a visionary whose efforts were directly responsible for quantum improvements in the ways in which different organizations within the Army communicated with one another. Furthermore, his efforts also greatly improved the Army’s ability to communicate with its sister Services and with the Armed Forces of its allies. Ultimately, General McKnight’s efforts resulted in the Army’s being a much stronger fighting force due to its streamlined, state-of-the-art communications at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. 

General McKnight continued his service to the nation as a civilian. During this period of his life, General McKnight was instrumental in developing the National Guard’s Distributive Training Technology Project (DTTP), a platform that enables the National Guard and local first-responders to easily coordinate vitally important training and communications. This platform was so successful that it was honored with an award from the Smithsonian Society for visionary use of information technology, and it has been inducted into the permanent research collection of the Museum of American History and Technology.

During a lifetime of service to his nation, Mac McKnight never forgot his close connection to West Point. Throughout his career, he constantly encouraged promising young people to serve their country by applying for admission to USMA. There can be no better summary of Lieutenant General McKnight’s character and contributions than the following words by one of his distinguished classmates: “General McKnight is a hero in war and in life, a builder of dreams, a champion of the troubled, a strong and good man who treasures his God, his family, his country, and his USMA experience.”

Accordingly, the West Point Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2008 Distinguished Graduate Award to Clarence E. McKnight, Jr.